Prop. 8 backer asks to withdraw from trial as high court blocks YouTube broadcasts

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer


On Monday morning the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily blocked the YouTube broadcasts of the hearings on California’s Proposition 8, but not before one backer sought to withdraw from the trial. He cited concerns for his safety and the safety of his family, also noting past death threats in YouTube comments.

The high court’s stay expires on Wednesday. The court said it will allow “further consideration,” according to the Washington Post.

Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker last week ruled that the proceedings could be uploaded at regular intervals to YouTube, whose owner Google, Inc. was an opponent of Prop. 8. The voter-approved California proposition defined marriage as being between one man and one woman in Nov. 2008 by a margin of 52 to 48 percent.

Hak-Shing William Tam, one of the official proponent defenders-interveners in the Proposition 8 case, last Friday submitted a motion to the District Court to withdraw as a witness.

“I am fearful for my personal safety and the safety of my family,” he wrote in the motion. “In the past I have received threats on my life, had my property vandalized and am recognized on the streets due to my association with Proposition 8.”

Now that the lawsuit is going to trial, he continued, “I fear that I will get more publicity, be more recognizable and that the risk of harm to me and my family will increase.”

He said that his car was vandalized during the Proposition 8 campaign and a young woman tried to remove the Prop. 8 yard sign from his front lawn.

“It is my belief that she knew who I was and deliberately targeted me. She knows where I live.”

Tam also noted a threatening message on a pro-Prop. 8 video he appeared in. The author of the message, who claimed to be a California resident, wrote, “I will destroy your hatred. I will poison your wells… I WILL F---ING KILL YOU ALL. DIE FASCIST SCUM.”

He said he takes the comment “very seriously” and he assumes the commenter meant what he wrote. He also noted anti-Chinese racial slurs have been posted on other YouTube videos supporting Prop. 8.

Tam added that he does not like the burden of complying with discovery requests and the “privacy invasion” on matters like old Chinese-language articles he posted on his website. He said he is also tired of the controversy, which is distracting from his work.

In Tam’s opinion, the other defendant-interveners in the trial are “well qualified and committed” and his withdrawal will not materially hurt the case.

The Supreme Court ruling temporarily blocking YouTube broadcasts was opposed only by Justice Stephen G. Breyer. Justice Breyer agreed that further consideration is “warranted,” but he argued that the court’s standards for issuing a stay were not met because there is not a likelihood of “irreparable harm” if the events are available on the internet.

Other proponents of Prop. 8, which restored California’s definition of marriage to being a union of the opposite sexes, have said the broadcasts could expose their witnesses to harassment and intimidation.

Last week, Brian Brown, executive director of the Prop. 8 backer National Organization for Marriage, told the Washington Times he is worried about the safety of witnesses, who include campaign contributors, staff and volunteers.

"The question is really whether Judge Walker can put people on the stand where they can be threatened," Brown commented. "It's a question of people's safety."

In October 2009 the Heritage Foundation released a report titled “The Price of Prop. 8.” That document reported that militant opponents of Prop. 8 targeted supporters with a range of hostility, including “harassment, intimidation, vandalism, racial scapegoating, blacklisting, loss of employment, economic hardships, angry protests, violence, at least one death threat, and gross expressions of anti-religious bigotry.”

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